So first, an important disclosure: that Jason Behrends, the brains behind one-man cultural guide What To Wear During an Orange Alert, is a personal friend of mine, and I of course am always going to paint his projects in the best light possible; that said, OA just released something really cool that I wanted to mention, that I would think really cool whether or not Jason was a friend of mine...
Jason has basically created a "best-of" look at all the material his blog has published over the last year, geared specifically as a holiday gift guide and yearly wrap-up; it's heavy for example on top-10 lists, looks at great CDs and self-published books, and other retail-friendly material. He then combined it with a handful of guest top-10 lists from artists around Chicago, and some other interesting original material, and outputted it as a PDF eBook; he then combined this with some actual free MP3 files from some of the bands mentioned, compressed it all into a ZIP file, and has been handing it out for free at the website this week.
Now granted, the guide is cool but nothing spectacular unto itself; although please realize that I really quite enjoyed it, and enjoyed the sensation of reading through the guide while listening to the bands being written about. Why I really wanted to mention this, though, is because of what I think it says about the arts and some of the deceptively simple lessons to succeeding there, now that the technology and costs of it all is leveling down into an even playing field; because that's what I think is most interesting of all about this, is that Jason merely took tools that are almost free to anyone by now, and that almost anyone could use at any skill level to make something almost exactly like what OA has released this week. The majority of the content, after all, is simply the stuff a blogger already owns, big piles of blog posts all year about cool bands, movies, books and the like; and since OA concentrates so much on self-produced artists hip to the cause, many of these songs are simply released for free by the artists, making it perfectly legal for any blogger to snatch up 10 or 15 and include them in a free guide like this. And in fact a growing amount of stories are like this too, and videos, and even more online creative material; if a person got truly inspired, they could release a truly multimedia experience as a blog holiday end-of-year guide, using not much more than Microsoft Word, their operating system's built-in PDF printer, and StuffIt to create the ZIP file at the end.
The fact that anyone can do this, but that Jason's one of the only people I've heard of who actually has, says something important about Jason and of one of the very obvious rules about artistic success that so many overlook; that step one is to simply get something finished and released, not sit around endlessly talking about how cool a certain technology is and how you've always meant to release something interesting with it. I spent a delightful afternoon looking through all the material with this year's OA holiday guide; out of the hundreds of small cultural-guide websites I read online each year, Jason's will remain high in my mind precisely because of cool little projects like this, projects like I said that any blog owner can take advantage of with just a little hard work and the most minimal acquisition of certain software. I encourage you to go download the guide yourself when you get the chance, to get a much better idea of what I'm talking about; and of course I congratulate Jason and all his guest contributors, for putting out a thoroughly entertaining little guide to the underground arts.